• Thursday, July 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

The race for the Champions league

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With Manchester City’s loss away at Anfield last Sunday, it is generally agreed that City will need a huge miracle, or a massive Chelsea meltdown to defend their premier league title this season. With that race almost a foregone conclusion, attention has shifted to the relegation battle, and the race for the UEFA Champions league.

With five teams locked in battle royale for the right to compete against Europe’s elite next season, the race is set for an intense, dramatic finale. We examine the five team and evaluate why each may and may not make it.

Tottenham Hotspur:

Why they will make it: Tottenham managed to stay in touching distance even with their Europa league distractions, and now that they’ve been bundled out of the tournament, their full focus will be at one target only. In Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, they have two of the hottest players in the league this season.

Why they won’t make it: Ultimately, they’ve been here a number of times and eventually crack under the pressure. And they never seem to be able to finish higher than their North London rivals regardless of how disorganized they are. History is definitely not on their side.

Southampton:

Why they will make it: Southampton have just refused to go away this season, and the manner in which they won the games against QPR and Crystal Palace show they still have the fight in them.

Why they won’t make it: Inexperience basically. Southampton are in uncharted territory, and these new heights must be dizzying at times. Most importantly, the goals have dried up since the turn of the year. With only two goals scored in their last five league games and top scorer Pelle firing blanks, this will likely be a step too far.

Liverpool:

Why they will make it: Brendan Rodgers seems to come alive at the turn of the year. In the last three seasons, no manager has gathered more points post Christmas than Brendan Rodgers. His players seem to be clicking at just the right time with the likes of Ibe, Coutinho, Henderson, Sturridge and Sterling running riot. Most importantly, the players seem to have adapted to his 3-5-2 formation, and are currently one of the meanest defences in Europe.

Why they won’t make it: Their creativity starts and stops at the feet of Coutinho and Sterling. If anything were to happen to both of those players, the European charge might fade away. Also due to the sheer number of games the likes of Sterling, Henderson and Skrtel have played this season, fatigue might douse their form going into this very crucial part of the season.

Manchester United:

Why they will make it: They are Manchester United, and even though they’ve been struggling all season long, they are still in the top 4 and have been grinding out results. Also, their injuries seem to be abating, and Rooney is starting to play his preferred position, which is bad news for all other contenders.

Why they won’t make it: Nine out of ten times, Louis Van Gaal seems to be experimenting with players and positions. Rooney in central midfield, Di Maria as striker, Fellaini as winger, we’ve seen it all this season. Also they seem like they might cave under the pressure, as they are making hard work of seemingly routine fixtures. Lastly, with Van Persie out, and Falcao struggling, any injury to Wayne Rooney and that might be the end.

Arsenal:

Why they will make it: Arsene Wenger is the king of this game. Qualifying for the Champions League is his thing. Also with majority of his big players back from injuries and rested, they should be fully equipped for the run in. Also, the purchase of Gabriel and the resurgence of Coquelin, they look that little bit more secure at the back. Giroud can’t stop scoring. And there is the little matter of Alexis Sanchez who is back amongst the goals.

Why they won’t make it: No matter how skilled you are at Russian roulette, at some point in time you will die. At some point in time Arsenal will lose out in this race for fourth, and it could as well be now. Also if teams follow the blue print of Manchester United, Monaco and Swansea, this team still has a tendency to go all out attack and expose their soft underbelly. And with the sheer number of minutes Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Per Mertesacker have racked up this season, they have to wrap them in cotton wool to keep them fatigue related injuries.

Adedamola Obisesan writes from Lagos